Bright lights, colorful costumes, model stage sets, and sing-along show tunes: Welcome to the new Museum of Broadway, an energetic homage and love letter to Broadway theater in New York City.
The multi-floor museum, the first permanent museum dedicated to the history of Broadway, highlights more than 500 productions from the 1700s through the present, including more than 20 major exhibits showcasing some of Broadway’s most ground-breaking shows. It’s a somewhat chaotic, fun trip into the showbiz world of Broadway.
The one-way, self-guided journey begins in the Map Room with a video outlining the rise and fall of Broadway, through the good and bad times. Today, after the longest shutdown in history, Broadway is back and is listed by tourists as one of the top reasons to visit New York City.
We walked upstairs, through a simulated backstage area, with dressing room doors, a call board, and informational panels. (Did you know that the cast often gathers on stage to sing “Happy Trails” to a departing performer, or on the last day of a show?) At the top of the stairs, we entered the main exhibit area, organized as a chronological timeline of Broadway’s greatest hits.
First up: “Ziegfeld Follies,” “Showboat,” and the cornfields of “Oklahoma!,” the first musical written by the renowned duo of Rodgers and Hammerstein. “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning,” the opening song of “Oklahoma!,” was playing in the background. The “West Side Story” exhibit was a step onto one of its stage sets, with a 1950s lunch counter against a New York City backdrop.
We continued through “Hello Dolly” and “Fiddler on the Roof” exhibits, into the colorful mural-lined walls of “Hair,” humming “Age of Aquarius” and “Let the Sunshine In” as we went along. Or perhaps we were singing along to the background music; many of the individual exhibits included show tunes.
After visiting the “Wiz” exhibit, we were instructed to “Ease on down the road,” descending yellow-painted stairs into an exhibit area showcasing “Annie,” “Ain’t Misbehaving,” “Cats,” “Rent” (was that “Seasons of Love” playing in the background?), “The Lion King,” “Wicked,” and “Hamilton.” The “Phantom of the Opera” display includes a hanging sculpture with 13,000 crystals, honoring the show’s more than 13,000 performances. “Stand here,” a museum attendant suggested. We did and saw an image of the Phantom’s mask among the crystal beads.
There are original costumes, music, Playbills, historic photos, video interviews with directors and cast members, and a slew of artifacts included throughout the exhibits. It’s a bit confusing, and we found it difficult sometimes to understand just what we were looking at. And despite the arrows on the floor, we also got turned around a few times. Where do we go next? Fortunately, there was always a friendly and eager staff person nearby to provide additional information and to send us in the right direction.
We continued to “The Making of a Broadway Show,” a large display detailing the steps involved in the creative process, from concept to final production. There are video interviews with composers, writers, designers, producers, and directors, sharing their insights, and an area where you can create your own Broadway production.
The final space is dedicated to rotating special exhibits. The opening exhibit, “The American Theatre as seen by Hirschfeld,” was created exclusively for the Museum of Broadway. Al Hirschfeld was a prolific American artist known for his theater artwork and caricatures; he created more posters for shows than any other artist. On display are 25 drawings and prints from 1928 to 2002, original sketchbooks, posters, and portraits of celebrities like Meryl Streep, Julie Andrews, Liza Minnelli, and Stephen Sondheim. While we were there, people were lined up to create a Hirschfeld portrait of themselves, using a special app. We skipped that, and the gift shop. Instead, we hurried out to the same-day ticket kiosk in Times Square to snag evening tickets to a Broadway show. Perhaps, that’s what the Museum of Broadway does best: Beyond its historic collection of artifacts, it touts and promotes the industry and the people behind it.
If you go: Museum of Broadway, 145 West 45th St., New York, N.Y., 212-239-6200, www.themuseumofbroadway.com. Open daily 10 a.m.-10 p.m., timed tickets $39, flex tickets $49, ages 4 and under free.
Where to stay: You can’t beat The Muse, located just off Times Square, and only a few minutes’ walk to the museum. The modern 200-room boutique hotel, including 19 suites, is a relaxing respite from the crazy hustle and bustle outside its door. Walk in and you’ll find a hushed, spacious lobby, a great place to hang out. Rooms are cushy and quiet, with lush linens, and updated baths featuring marble floors and walk-in tiled showers with rain shower heads. A business center, free WiFi, complimentary evening wine hour, and a fitness center including the latest Peloton bikes are among the amenities. The former Kimpton property is now under the management of Crescent Hotels & Resorts; plans are underway for a new bar-lounge area and New York-specific package deals. Check the website for updates. Low season rates start around $180.
Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at email@example.com